Introduction to the Shipman's Tale:
The Host asks the priest to tell a tale, but the Shipman interrupts, insisting that he will tell the next tale. He says that he will not tell a tale of physics or law or philosophy, but rather a more modest story.
The Shipman's Tale:
A merchant at St. Denis foolishly took a desirable woman for a wife who drained his income by demanding clothes and other fine array to make her appear even more beautiful. Since his wife demanded so many costs, the merchant was forced to take in guests; one of these was a monk. John, a young monk no older than thirty, claimed to be the cousin of this merchant, and when he did stay with them he was quite generous with tips to the servants. Before he was going to make a journey to Bruges, the merchant invited John to visit him and his wife. On the day that the merchant was ready to leave St. Denis, he awoke early and went to his counting-house to balance his books. John was also awake early and went into the garden to pray. The wife went into the garden, worried that something was bothering the monk. He in turn worries about her; he thinks that she did not sleep well, for the merchant kept her up all night in sport. She admits that she has no lust for her husband. John realizes that she is keeping something from him and promises to keep whatever she could tell secret. He admits that he is not a cousin to the merchant. She complains that her husband is stingy and tells that wives want six things: their husbands to be hardy, wise, rich, giving, obedient and good in bed. She tells him that she must pay a debt of one hundred francs to her husband. He agrees to get that sum for her, and the t...
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...ead from incompatibility. The wife also deviates from the norms of the unfaithful spouse established throughout the other Canterbury Tales. She is not a devious manipulator; her turn to infidelity comes out of what she perceives to be necessity. Her situation generates genuine pathos, for she is trapped in a loveless marriage. Furthermore, she suffers a private humiliation. Her husband does not know that she was unfaithful, but she nevertheless realizes that she has been deceived.
The extraordinary sympathy that the Shipman gives to the merchant and his wife softens the satiric remoteness that marks many of the comedic Canterbury Tales. The Shipman's Tale therefore removes the pleasure that most of the tales offer in mocking the characters' fate and replaces it with a more abstract and palatable pleasure in the themes of the tale and the symmetry of the action.
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